“Listen very deeply to the music that touches your heart the most, analyze it and learn all you can about it. Then forget everything and be yourself.”
This simple bit of advice rings so true to me, both as performing artist and as teacher. It is a direct quote from one of my Alexander Technique students. Paul is an amazing musician. He is a highly accomplished sitarist, touring regularly throughout the world, most recently finishing up a two-month performance stint in India.
A true scholar of Indian classical music, he also teaches, composes, and passionately and generously shares his knowledge and his love of music. During his lessons with me, we go very deeply into how our thinking, movement, intentions, emotions (and even our spiritual beliefs) interact to inform our music making process.
A lot of our work together is aimed at finding not only physical ease and efficiency in playing music, but also, the freedom and the means to play authentically. To listen to your voice and follow it without hesitation.
Paul’s words describes the path of devotion and discipline that leads to deep, personal expression in music, regardless of genre or style.
In the world of jazz pedagogy there is much discussion (and even controversy) about the value of imitation. The jazz trumpeter Clark Terry would say, “imitation, assimilation, innovation”.
Yet, very few ever make it to the “innovation” phase. And maybe that’s okay, just as long as you’re being true to yourself. Perhaps what Mr. Terry was really describing was a natural sequence of artistic development rather than a mandatory destination.
So many questions for the aspiring jazz improviser: Should I transcribe solos? Should I learn all these licks by memory? Should I find one musical hero to model myself after? Should I learn as many standards as possible? Should I study other styles of music?
The answer to all these questions is simple. Follow Paul’s advice:
Start by what moves you, without question. Go deeply into it (really learn it, no matter how much time it takes!) Then let it go and discover your true creative self. Simple and practical.
Here’s a video of Paul Livingstone in concert performing with tabla master Swapan Chaudhuri. I hope you enjoy: